JOPLIN, MO – Too often, people with behavioral and mental health issues have frequent interaction with law enforcement and the court system.
The Missouri Department of Health’s Strengthening Mental Health Initiative is filling the gap by improving access to behavioral health treatment.
“Cause they have guns, and handcuffs, and tasers and all of this stuff, they look more intimidating whether they’re doing it on purpose or not, it just appears that way and so when you have somebody come out that is dressed in normal clothes, and is talking to them, we can say the same things but it sometimes comes across differently.” Says Hailee Bradshaw, Community Mental Health Liaison, Ozark Center.
31 community health liaisons across the state of Missouri are working to assist law enforcement and courts in addressing mental and behavioral health needs.
“When they started this program, they had found that there were lots of interactions that may or may not have been negative for people with the courts and with law enforcement that may not have needed to happen because of the mental illness or substance abuse problem that they were experiencing and people were going to jails or being involved with the courts to some degree based on something that happened when they were not themselves.” Says Bradshaw.
Once the liaison receives a referral from law enforcement, they attempt to make contact with the individual.
“And if I can then I try to get them into services that they feel would help them the most get back on track.” Says Bradshaw.
The goal is to form partnerships between community mental health centers, law enforcement, and courts to avoid unnecessary jail, prison, and hospital stays and to improve outcomes for individuals with behavioral health issues.
“Sometimes when law enforcement just walks up to a situation, it can escalate it. Not by anything they’re doing but just by their presence and so a lot of times, they’ll call me for us to go out and work with them to help deescalate a situation.” Says Bradshaw.
And Bradshaw says sometimes her presence, makes a difference.
“Because they are less intimidated by a counselor coming out.” Says Bradshaw.
Liaisons also follow-up with referrals in order to track progress and ensure success.
“When people get help and they interact with me and we come up with a plan of how to better help them, they are hospitalized less, they are incarcerated less, they spend less time in jail, if they do, they have less contact with law enforcement, if they have contacts anymore.” Says Bradshaw.
Because of the number of referrals being made in Southwest Missouri and the program’s success, the Missouri Department of Mental Health is recommending expanding the program by adding as many as two liaison positions at Ozark Center.
If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, we urge you to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
We also have more resources under our Suicide Crisis tab.